When it comes to our health, we all can procrastinate, whether it’s putting off our annual physical or waiting for life to calm down before starting a new exercise routine.
Men are no exception. Studies have found that many men would rather do anything — including clean a bathroom or mow the lawn instead of going to the doctor. But prevention is the best way to catch a medical condition early.
As we approach Father’s Day, Abhishek Bhat, M.D, associate medical director of urology at Jackson Health System, who specializes in urological oncology and also sees patients with general urological issues, shares some simple ways men can take charge of their health today.
What are some key numbers, tests, and/or screenings that men should consider?
Some of the issues that affect men are often silent, meaning that men do not experience any pain or symptoms alerting them that something is wrong. That’s why it’s so important for men to get regular screenings.
I recommend they do the following:
1. One simple test, when given to men of the right age, can help detect cancer. It is called a Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test.
The American Urologic Association recommends men of an average risk obtain a PSA test between the ages of 55-69 years old. However, men who are at higher risk of prostate cancer — either due to family history, like a father or brother who had prostate cancer, or Afro-American men, who are considered to be higher risk — should consider getting a PSA test as young as 45-50 years old.
While a PSA test can be done at any testing center and ordered by various doctors, it should be read and interpreted by a urologic oncologist or a qualified primary care physician. They should be able to counsel you on the findings, offer support and discuss the treatment options and next steps.
A high PSA score does not automatically mean cancer. It could mean there is inflammation, it could be an infection, or it could be cancer. Further testing and evaluation may be needed. But it’s the first step in determining if something is amiss.
2. In the older age group, the most common cause of blood in the urine is bladder cancer. So if any man notices blood in their urine, they should immediately talk to their doctor.
3. Also, every male should be educated on and perform a regular testicular self-exam. Testicular cancer is most common in the younger age group, between ages of 20-40. Any palpable mass in the scrotum needs to be carefully examined and should be brought to the notice of your doctor.
Why is it so important for men to be proactive about their health?
If we can catch certain conditions, especially cancer, early, we have treatments today to deal with them.
For example, if you can detect prostate cancer early, then it is more likely to be confined to the prostate, and we can surgically remove the prostate or radiate the cancer. But if you allow cancer to take its natural course, it can metastasize to other organs where local treatment is no longer applicable.
The longer you wait, the more you increase the risk of metastasis and increase the chances of death.
If you could suggest one lifestyle change that men can take today to improve their overall health, what would it be?
I believe that whatever is good for the heart is also good for the urological organs. Eating healthy is important, and so is being active.
But if I had to recommend one lifestyle change to make sure someone had a better life, it would be to stop smoking. It is something that affects the whole body. All cancers of the body can be impacted by smoking, including lung cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer, etc.
So, the best recommendation would be to stop smoking. It’s controllable, and there are many cessation programs available that can help.
As a urologist, what are some common misconceptions you hear from men about their health?
In the clinic working with men, I have noticed a few misconceptions.
First, people equate an enlarged prostate with more symptoms in terms of increased urination or higher chances of prostate cancer, but it just isn’t true.
The prostate can grow throughout your life and different men have different sized prostates, but its size is not directly proportional to the problems or cancer predilection.
Second, many men think that if their father or brothers and other men in their family do not have prostate cancer, that means they won’t get it, too. Just because your father or relatives did not have prostate cancer does not mean you won’t get it. Again, that is why it is so important to be tested once your doctor recommends it.
And third, many men equate their level of testosterone with masculinity. They often come into the clinic asking for testosterone supplements even though their limits are within the normal range. Testosterone supplementation should only be done under specialized care, where a doctor can monitor blood parameters and a lot of other things. It should not be taken without guidance from a doctor.
Abhishek Bhat, M.D, is the Associate Medical Director of Urology at Jackson Health System at Jackson North Medical Center and specializes in urological oncology and general urology. For more information about urology services at Jackson Health System visit medicalgroup.jacksonhealth.org or call 305-654-6850.
This article is sponsored by the Jackson Health System.